The Mubadala World Tennis Championships starts today in Abu Dhabi and the most noticeable absentee is of course Roger Federer.
Since 2008/09 Roger has turned out at the event in the United Arab Emirates every year so why did he decide to miss the 2012/2013 event?
When he first released his schedule I simply thought it was to ensure he got adequate rest after a long season and his Exhibition matches in South America but now that I've learnt that the Mubadala World Tennis Championship is an IMG owned event I'm not sure that's the only reason behind it.
My suspicions further increased when I stumbled across some ridiculous quotes from Greg Sproule in an article on Sports 360. Sproule manages IMG's operation in the middle east and when asked about Roger's omission from the tournament he came up with gems like:
The principle reason is that we are celebrating past champions and Roger, unfortunately, hasn’t won the event.
Two words: Oh Dear. Roger's popularity in the middle east is sky high so to come up with a reason like that is just stupid. It'd be better to say nothing at all so it seems to me that IMG are a very petty organisation looking to take digs at people in the media or they have a shockingly shit Public Relations team.
The quotes get worse too:
He is very dear to us, and I mean that very seriously. But the celebration of champions and the youth of the ATP, which we have in spades here with arguably the six hottest young players in the game, was our aim from the outset. These guys have more Grand Slam victories ahead of them rather than behind them
And this one really takes the biscuit:
I think much of the feedback we were getting, people wanted to have Andy Murray. They wanted him to come back, He’s had such an incredible summer and year overall. Andy’s back and we’re thrilled with that
I mean come on, I bet if you asked anyone in the street who they'd want to watch, Murray's name wouldn't even crop up.
I believe this can only be as a result of two things:
1.) Roger has shunned IMG and realised he wants to be no part of their organisation or remotely related to any of their tennis dealings. They've taken their bat home and decided to pump out rubbish like that in an attempt to both rile him up and appear as though they're the ones making such decisions.
2.) IMG have decided they no longer want to support Roger and wish to pursue other avenues like Djokovic, who's just signed for IMG as it happens, simply because Roger is coming towards the end of his career and they want to represent the newer generations.
Out of those two I'm tempted to go for the first one. IMG are all about the money and they're not stupid so I'm sure they know deep down there's still money to be made from Roger across the globe as he's still such a popular figure. Why would they leave money on the table if it was there for the taking?
I'd say Roger is in the more commanding position here too so it's likely that the decision is on his part as opposed to him being excluded. I doubt if it was an IMG decision they'd have to resort to quotes like “we're only celebrating past champions this year”.
A Brief Background on Federer and IMG
Roger started out his career with IMG, first left in 2003 to be managed by Mirka, his mother and a Swiss lawyer but then rejoined in 2005 when the company was bought by Ted Forstmann. Since then Roger has been represented by Tony Godsick who was one of IMG's agents. In 2012, around the time of the French Open, both Godsick and Federer parted ways and the reasons cited were that neither of them could come to terms on a new contract.
That's about all we know really, much of the information hasn't been disclosed, whether there was a disagreement or simply Godsick and Federer wanted to go it alone nobody really knows. Apparently Roger had the option of resigning with IMG but for one reason or another he hasn't.
Larry Ellison's Offer of Increased Prize Money
The next piece of the IMG puzzle is when Larry Ellison offered to increase the prize money at his Indian Wells tournament by a further $800,000 dollars that would be equally distributed amongst the players.
In a rather bizarre move the proposal was rejected at the ATP board meeting in London during the World Tour Finals with apparently IMG representatives forming the mainstay of the opposition.
Why would the ATP, an organisation tasked with growing and improving the sport of tennis reject a voluntarily increase in prize money that's spread across the draw for all players? It doesn't make sense.
What possible reasons are there? Because it would make Miami, the IMG event look like a lesser tournament in North America? My heart bleeds. Welcome to the world of backhanders and bribes folks. Self interested parties, everyone who's in it for what they can get. Tennis isn't as high profile as the Premier League that's for sure but seems to me like it's another corrupt organisation with everyone in it for themselves.
How does this link to Roger? Well he's long campaigned for the lesser ranked players to get better prize money and treated with more respect by the ATP. With the the ATP turning down a seemingly great offer and IMG playing a part in the rejection that no doubt reinforced in his mind why he left them to work solely with Tony Godsick.
He even commented in a press conference on his suprise at the prize money rejection:
For me, I was a bit surprised to hear that, obviously, I wasn't in the room when everything went down because it's at the board level, at the CEO level. What I can tell you is I will investigate and make sure that the decision they've taken is, indeed, the right one. If it's not, then obviously we need to talk about it and what we can do in the future. It's an important issue.
Federer Decides to Drop Miami from his Schedule
The next big shock with Roger was that he dropped Miami from his 2013 schedule, which surprise surprise is another IMG Event.
The reasons are unknown but it looks to be too much of a coincidence just to be scheduling reasons alone. Has Roger fallen out with IMG? Is he trying to pressure them into accepting the increase prize money offer at Indian Wells by refusing to play there?
I'm not sure we'll find out as Roger keeps things like this under wraps, which I think is sensible. But I don't think Roger will be playing an IMG run event any time soon.
Anyway, over to you, what do you guys think? Will Roger ever play an IMG Event again?
Another thing I'd like to know more about is; are Basel and IMG linked? I know that Roger Brennwald owns the tournament but apparently when Roger was with IMG they tried to buy the tournament off him. Brennwald rejected it, but is there still a link and could IMG be a part of why Roger isn't playing Basel? Internal politics huh!
Another little update thanks to Vasco in the comments below and @UltimateFederer on Twitter who let me know that Rafael Nadal has also left IMG. And he too pulled out of Abu Dhabi citing a stomach virus as the reason. Very strange that's all I can say!
Update: Why did Federer leave IMG?
Last night I had an interesting chat on twitter with @AlexDuff1 on twitter, who also happens to take awesome tennis photos, check out the one of Fed from the World Tour Finals, so crisp!
Anyway, his theory (no evidence just thoughts) is that Federer and Godsick wanted to go it alone and they had to pay IMG off to make that happen due to a no compete clause in Tony Godsick's contract.
I think that's definitely a plausible theory. It's likely Godsick would have some kind of restrictive covenants in his contract to prevent him starting up his own management company immediately after he left. Perhaps the deal is now he can only manage Roger for X amount of years then he is free to do what he wants. Maybe we'll see Goderer Management once Roger retires.
The big question is though why did Godsick and Roger leave IMG in the first place? Roger has been with the agency since 2005 so there had to be something wrong.
Alex and I came up with three possible reasons:
- IMG wanted rid of Federer – unlikely as he's still a hot commodity.
- IMG didn't like the fact Federer was playing Exhibitions in South America outside of the ATP Tour and somewhat devaluing their own tournament in Abu Dhabi.
- Godsick and Federer wanted it to go alone for one reason or another – they thought they'd work better alone, or they knew that IMG were preparing to sell the business in 2013 and decided it was better to move before a buy out.
If we discount the first reason as I think that's very unlikely. Most organisations bleed things dry before they give them up and if you consider that Fed has just signed a deal with Moet & Chandon worth X million, of which IMG would have earned a percentage if they still managed him then it's unlikely to think they would give that up.
The second one is very interesting, it's widely reported that the Gillette Tour was a very lucrative deal for Roger, apparently he earned $1.2 million per match and something tells me he didn't pay for his flights and accommodation.
Although Gilette have sponsored Roger for a while, it's the first time they've leveraged the whole sport of tennis with him at the fore, sure they've done adverts where he's holding a racket but this time around they effectively put on an entire tournament from start to finish; something which is IMG's forte so to speak.
It's not unreasonable to think that IMG would get annoyed at something like that, especially if Roger then couldn't commit to Abu Dhabi which devalues their own tournament and effects their profitability.
The final speculative reason that IMG and Fed/Godsick split is perhaps because IMG are planning on selling their business next year, according to Variety magazine there are number of possible bidders, including CAA which used to manage Djokovic before he signed for IMG last week. Strange.
If you read the article you'll also see that IMG make the vast amount of their revenue from other arms of the business, and not the athletes it has on it's books. The article also suggests the company could be split up and different areas sold to different bidders.
If Godsick knew the company were going to sell up then it's sensible for him to want out and do his own thing. If the relationship with IMG and Roger wasn't fantastic with regards to the South American tour they could have put a premium price on Godsicks buyout clause and that's why we see Roger not playing at Abu Dhabi or Miami because he knows he significantly increases the profitability of those tournaments. If he doesn't think IMG are helping the sport of tennis by refusing prize money increases then why would he want to help them out?